BackgroundJohn Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas on February 8, 1955. His parents were a construction worker and a homemaker. As a child, John Grisham dreamed of one day becoming a professional baseball player. In 1967, his family moved to the town of Southaven, Mississippi. Ten years later he received an undergraduate degree in accounting from Mississippi State University. In 1981, he received a law degree from Ole Miss. That same year, he married Renee Jones. He also started a law practice in Southaven, where he practiced both criminal and civil law. Two years later, Grisham was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives where he served until 1990. During his seven year span, he one day overheard the testimony of a 12 year old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the father had murdered his daughter’s rapists. Grisham spent five years of getting up a 5 a.m. to finish this novel, entitled A Time to Kill. Initially, the story was rejected by many publishers, but was bought by Wynwood Press and given a modest printing in 1988. Before A Time to Kill was published, Grisham had already begun work on The Firm, which was bought by Paramount Pictures for $600,000. The Firm spent 47 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was the best-selling novel of 1991. Grisham has continued to write one novel per year since A Time to Kill. Grisham now resides in Oxford, Mississippi and Charlottesville, Virginia.
John Grisham writes a very distinctive style of mystery. Grisham started out as a lawyer, so he generally writes mysteries that pertain very much to law and government. This type of mystery is commonly known as the legal thriller. He gives you just enough information to keep you guessing, but not enough to give away the ending. Although, Grisham has written one novel that has absolutely nothing to do with law, lawyers, or courtrooms.
To date, John Grisham has written twelve novels. They are A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, The Chamber, The Rainmaker, The Runaway Jury, The Partner, The Street Lawyer, The Testament, The Brethren, and A Painted House. There have also been several media adaptations to Grisham’s novels. They include:- The Firm. Dir. Sydney Pollack. Paramount Pictures, 1993. Based on the novel.
– The Pelican Brief. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Warner Bros., 1993. Based on the novel.
– The Client. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Warner Bros., 1994. Based on the Novel. – The Chamber. Dir. James Foley. Universal Pictures, 1996. Based on the novel.
– A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Warner Bros., 1996. Based on the novel.
– The Rainmaker. Dir. Francis Coppola. Constellation Films, 1997. Based on the novel.
– The Gingerbread Man. Story by John Grisham. Dir. Robert Altman. Enchanter Entertainment, 1998.
– Mickey. Screenplay by John Grisham. Dir. Hugh Wilson. Forthcoming.
There was also a television show entitled The Client, which aired in 1995-1996, and is based on both the novel and the movie.
Currently, there are over 60 million John Grisham books in print worldwide, in 29 different languages. In 1996, John Grisham returned to the courtroom after five years of writing to represent the family of a railroad brakeman killed when he was pinned between two cars. Grisham successfully argued the case and earned the family $683,500, which was the largest settlement in his career. When he’s not writing, Grisham devotes time to charitable causes and also reverts to his first love and true passion of baseball. The child who dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player is now the man who is now the local Little League commissioner. He also has six ball diamonds built on his property which have played host to over 350 children on twenty-six different Little League teams. A TIME TO KILLJohn Grisham wrote this riveting story of retribution and justice. In this searing courtroom drama, best selling author John Grisham probes the savage depths of racial violence…as he delivers a compelling tale of uncertain justice in the small southern town of Clanton, Mississippi.The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime. Until her black father acquires an assault rifle — and takes justice into his own outraged hands.For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client’s life, and then his own.
– New York: Wynwood Press, 1989.
THE FIRMHard to believe, but there was a time when the word “lawyer” wasn’t synonymous with “criminal,” and the idea of a law firm controlled by the Mafia was an outlandish proposition. This intelligent, ensnaring story came out of nowhere. Oxford, Mississippi to be exact, where Grisham was a small-town lawyer–and quickly catapulted to the top of the bestseller list, with good reason. Mitch McDeere, the appealing hero, is a poor kid whose only assets are a first-class mind, a Harvard law degree, and a beautiful, loving wife. When a Memphis law firm makes him an offer he really can’t refuse, he trades his old Nissan for a new BMW, his cramped apartment for a house in the best part of town, and puts in long hours finding tax shelters for Texans who’d rather pay a lawyer than the IRS. There was nothing criminal about that. He’d be set for life, if only associates at the firm didn’t have a funny habit of dying, and the FBI wasn’t trying to get Mitch to turn his colleagues in. – New York: Doubleday, 1991.
THE PELICAN BRIEFWhere The Firm clamped into the reader’s greed for the perks of a highly successful young lawyer in an almost fantasy law firm, Grisham’s second is a tale that baits its own hooks with the lures of All the President’s Men. That much of what happens here happens regularly in suspense novels (sudden stranglings and murders). And in no way lessens the novel’s intensity and feeling of freshness–a freshness that springs in both novels from Grisham’s focus on top law students, cloistered brains who find themselves raw beginners in the real world but afloat on cash. Here, second-year law student at Tulane, Darby Shaw sets out to solve the seemingly motiveless simultaneous murders of two largely liberal Supreme Court judges who were killed two hours apart on the same night. Was it a lone assassin or a conspiracy? Clearly someone wants the conservative Republican president, a grandfatherly figure mainly interested in his golf game, to pack the already conservative Court. Darby reviews hundreds of the Court’s upcoming cases and sees only one that fulfills the breadth of evil needed to account for such desperate measures as double murder: a multibillion-dollar oil venture in Louisiana that will kill off the state’s beloved but endangered brown pelican. Darby’s brief on this “fictional” case finds its way to the White House, the FBI, and the CIA. Then Darby’s lover, her constitutional-law professor, to whom she has shown the brief, is blown up in a car-bomb explosion meant also to have killed Darby. The story’s vitality springs from Grisham’s relentless enlivening of Darby’s fears as she flees about the country in a closing web of killers while trying to help Washington Post reporter Gray Grantham get the goods in a newsbreak bigger than Watergate.
– New York: Doubleday, 1992THE CLIENTGrisham’s latest opens with a neat hook into the reader’s jaw- -and the tension never wavers–as the author strives for a knockout thriller. Eleven year old Mark Sway is thrown among lawyers and murderers. Mark, a great follower of L.A. Law, becomes “the client” after he witnesses the suicide of a drunken Mafia lawyer. Before the lawyer dies, he tries to take Mark with him, holding the boy prisoner while the Cadillac they sit in fills with carbon dioxide. As he’s fading, the lawyer reveals to Mark the whereabouts of the body of a Louisiana senator. Mafia thug Barry “the Blade” murdered Senator Muldanno, then buried under concrete in the lawyer’s garage. Mark escapes death but now holds a secret so deadly that Barry the Blade is ready to waste him. He’s also wanted by the feds because Barry’s going on trial for the senator’s murder–but there’s no body, and so the FBI have a weak case. Mark retains 52-year-old Reggie Love, an abused divorce, to help him keep shut about the body’s whereabouts.If it’s known that he knows–and the hoods and the FBI suspect him mightily–he and his family will never have a safe moment again. The story is set in Memphis, then moves to New Orleans, but both backgrounds are sketchy. The strongest scene features three mildly funny goons in the middle of the night trying to…well, enough. Mark is too smart by half, rather than wise like Huck; dialogue slips into exposition but is pressed too hard.
– New York: Doubleday, 1993THE CHAMBERIt’s a foregone conclusion that Grisham’s latest novel will be a best seller, but now that he doesn’t have to worry about making money, he’s apparently decided to flex his literary muscles with a tale of death-row inmate Sam Cayhall and his lawyer-grandson Adam Hall. Grisham’s reputation as a writer of lawyer espionage novels is well known, but he is equally adept at fleshing out characters of the modern South. We begin in 1967, when Mississippi resident and Klan member Cayhall helps bomb a Jewish lawyer’s office and mistakenly kills the attorney’s two young sons. Two trials with all-white juries wind up in mistrials, but eventually the intelligent Sam is convicted in 1981 and sentenced to the gas chamber. By 1990, Adam, who has never met Sam, agrees to file his final appeals shortly before the execution. Like The Firm and other Grisham books, the plot is centered on a race against time, but there is little hint of cloak-and-dagger; in addition, a subplot that could exonerate Sam is, inexplicably, never developed. Grisham asserts that most prison officials are against the death penalty, or at least the gas chamber method, and he provides gruesome details of executions gone wrong. As usual, the dialogue is fast paced, witty, and screenplay-ready, and only near the end does it become mawkish in the midst of self-examination and tearful good-byes. Most ironic, however, is that Grisham fans will eat up this rather uncommercial tale.
– New York: Doubleday, 1994THE RAINMAKERRudy Baylor, a graduate fresh out of law school, once dreamed of the good life as a corporate attorney. Now he faces joblessness and bankruptcy–unless he can win an insurance case against a heavyweight team of lawyers, a case that starts small but snowballs into a frightening war of nerve and legal skill that could cost Rudy not only his future, but also his life.
– New York: Doubleday, 1995THE RUNAWAY JURYHe has waited for this moment.
He has planned his every move.
He has made it onto the jury in the most explosive trial of the century.
Now the verdict belongs to him. . . . They are at the center of a multimillion-dollar legal hurricane: twelve men and women who have been investigated, watched, manipulated, and harassed by high-priced lawyers and consultants who will stop at nothing to secure a verdict. Now that the jury must make a decision in the most explosive trial of the century, a precedent-setting lawsuit against a giant tobacco company. But only a handful of people know the truth: that this jury has a leader, and the verdict belongs to him. He is known only as Juror #2. But he has a name, a past, and he has planned his every move with the help of a beautiful woman on the outside. Now, while a corporate empire hands in the balance, while a grieving family waits, and while lawyers are plunged into a battle for their careers, the truth about Juror #2 is about to explode, in a cross fire of greed and corruption–and with justice fighting for its life…
– New York: Doubleday, 1996THE PARTNERPatrick Lanigan had been a young partner in a prominent Southern law firm. He had a beautiful wife, a new baby girl, and a bright future. Then one winter night Patrick was trapped in a burning car; the casket they buried held nothing but ashes. A short distance away, Patrick watched his own burial then fled. A fortune was stolen from his ex-firm’s offshore account. And Patrick ran, covering his tracks the whole way. But, now, they’ve found him.
– New York: Doubleday, 1997THE STREET LAWYERThe story dives deep into the world of the homeless, particularly their barely audible legal voice in a world dominated by large, all-powerful law firms. Our hero, Michael Brock, is on the fast track to partnership at D.C.’s premier law firm, Sweeny & Drake. His dream of someday raking in a million-plus a year is finally within reach. Nothing can stop him, not even 90-hour workweeks and a failing marriage–until he meets DeVon Hardy, a.k.a. “Mister,” a Vietnam vet with a grudge against his landlord–and a few lawyers to fry. Hardy, with no clear motive, takes Brock and eight of his colleagues hostage in a boardroom, demanding their tax returns and interrogating them with a conviction that would have put perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition to shame. Hardy, a man of few words and a lot of ammunition, mumbles cryptically, “Who are the evictors?” as he points a .44 automatic within inches of Brock’s face. The violent outcome of the hostage situation triggers an abrupt soul-searching for the young lawyer, and Hardy’s mysterious question continues to haunt him. Brock learns that Hardy had been in and out of homeless shelters most of his life, but he had recently begun paying rent in a rundown building; that means he has legal recourse when a big money-making outfit such as Sweeny & Drake boots him with no warning. When Brock realizes that his profession caters to the morally challenged, he sets out on an aimless search through the dicier side of D.C., ending up at the 14th Street Legal Clinic. The clinic’s director, a gargantuan man named Mordecai Green, woos Brock to the clinic with a $90,000 cut in pay and the chance to redeem his soul. Brock takes it-and some of the story’s credibility along with it; it’s hard to believe that a Yale graduate who sacrificed everything–including his marriage–to succeed in the legal profession would quickly jump at the opportunity for low-paying, charitable work. However, Brock’s search for corruption in the swanky upper echelons of Sweeny & Drake (via the toughest streets of D.C.) is filled with colorful characters and realistic, gritty descriptions. In the words of Mordecai Green, “That’s justice, Michael. That’s what street law is all about. Dignity.”- New York: Doubleday, 1998THE TESTAMENTTroy Phelan is a self-made billionaire, but suffers confinement to a wheelchair and passionately wishes to die. His relatives are making the customary vulture-like circling. Nate O’Riley, a top-drawer Washington litigator, is dealing with a crumbling marriage and a drink problem, while dreading his return to professional life. The third protagonist is Rachel Lane, a young woman who has devoted her life to God by opting to work with a primitive tribe of Indians in the jungles of Brazil.
– New York: Doubleday, 1999THE BRETHRENTwo plots. One story. In the first, three imprisoned ex-judges (the “brethren” in the title), frustrated by their loss of power and influence, concoct an elaborate blackmail scheme that preys on wealthy, closeted gay men. The second story traces the rise of presidential candidate Aaron Lake, a puppet essentially created by CIA director Teddy Maynard to fulfill Maynard’s plans for restoring the power of his beleaguered agency. Tight control of the two meandering threads leaves the reader guessing through most of the opening chapters how and when these two worlds will collide. Also impressive is the careful portraiture. Justice Hatlee Beech in particular is a fascinating, tragic anti-hero: a millionaire judge with an appointment for life who was rendered divorced, bankrupt, and friendless after his conviction for a drunk-driving homicide. The book’s cynical view of presidential politics and criminal justice casts a somewhat gloomy shadow over the tale. CIA director Teddy Maynard is an all-powerful demon with absolute knowledge and control of the public will and public funds. Even his candidate, Congressman Lake, is a pawn in Maynard’s egomaniacal game of ad campaigns, illicit contributions, and international intrigue. But, that’s not to say that the last 50 pages won’t keep your reading light turned on late.
– New York: Doubleday, 2000A PAINTED HOUSEThe hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day. It was a Wednesday, early in September 1952. The Cardinals were five games behind the Dodgers with two weeks to go, and the season looked hopeless. The cotton, however, was waist- high to my father, almost over my head, and he and my grandfather could be heard before supper whispering words that were seldom heard. It could be a “good crop.” Thus begins a story inspired by life in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that’s never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and, sometimes, each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever. A Painted House is a moving story of one boy’s journey from innocence to experience.
– Oxford, Mississippi: The Oxford American (2000)- New York: Doubleday, 2001